UPAA Symposium

Last week I had the joy and privilege of attending the University Photographers Association of America Symposium at my beloved Samford University. The gathering consisted of the best photographers in the nation, ranging from universities such as Morraine Valley Community College to the University of Georgia to Ole Miss.

This past semester I worked for Caroline Summers, photographer for Samford. It has been an incredibly educational experience, (which is why I’ll work for her again in the fall) and I have found such a wise mentor in Caroline. Being on UPAA’s Board of Directors, she took the task of hosting this year’s symposium, hence the location being Samford. Caroline spent a whole year preparing for the event, and asked if I would consider being her assistant for the week. I would’ve been crazy to say no!

The symposium began with a wonderful dinner on the quad, meeting and greeting each other that Monday night. It was the 53rd technical symposium, so old friends reacquainted quickly and caught up on life. The week consisted of seminars, late night speakers, shoot-outs, volunteer work, Q&A times and a lot of great, Southern food. Speakers such as John White, Jeremy Cowart, Dave Black and David Tejada enlightened us. They each brought incredible perspective about lighting, humanitarian work and photojournalism.

Having been an avid follower of Cowart’s work, I was bowled over to have the opportunity of introducing him for his presentation and to volunteer at a Help-Portrait event with him overseeing. It was pretty much a dream (cue fan girl sigh).

However, I was most inspired by John White, the first African-American Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, but more importantly, the most gentle man I have ever met. He introduced the concept of photographers as “visual servants,” saying, “we are the eyes for others; we have to be doers, because we don’t belong to ourselves.” WOW. Every sentence of his contained years of wisdom, and I soaked it all in. I will treasure these phrases forever: “You call it a photograph; I call it a timeless visual treasure,” “Don’t let anyone contain your light” and “Don’t take pictures just because you’re a photographer.”

White photographed Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, President Obama and so many other crucial world figures, yet he took the time to ask about my life and dreams in the few times I transported him to and from his hotel. When I said goodbye to him, he said, “Keep in flight.” This phrase of his means to follow your dreams and spread your wings. It sounds cliche, but since it came from a man who has lived it, I didn’t take it lightly!

I learned so many technical terms and practices, but was grateful that I could keep up with what each speaker was talking about! It was an honour to learn alongside professionals whose jobs demand such diversity.

The following pictures are primarily from the Nikon Shoot-Out. Three hours were spent at Sloss Furnaces, capturing all sorts of angles and lighting. The best image was decided upon–the one that best conveyed “Industrial Beauty”–and its photographer won a high-end camera sponsored by Nikon. It felt like we were caked in mud by the end, but boy was it fun! If anyone from UPAA reads this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was a joy to serve and assist Caroline, and I felt so nurtured as a photographer by you all. Thank you for befriending and teaching me!

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